I'm spending three days on campus at CCSU. This is a great place to get energized for the road trip; the campus is alive with the energy of the new semester. Yesterday I set up my Taking Capitalism Lemonade Stand for the first time in the Student Center. Good day for lemonade, it was HOT.
Several people stopped by to talk, including CCSU senior Tiffany Samuels (above). She is a history major, particularly interested in maritime history (she talked about the great boats at the historic Mystic Seaport). Tiffany had this to say about capitalism (forgive the not-great video, I'm still using my phone, intimidated by the video camera I brought along).
Today I was guest professor in two classes of the Ethics and Social Issues course I usually teach. Prof. Vanda Marquez who is teaching the course while I'm on sabbatical is being a great colleague and incorporating aspects of Talking Capitalism into her teaching of the course. It felt good to be in the classroom after the summer and both groups of students were wonderfully engaged.
At the beginning of class I ask students (these are largely 4th year business students) how they feel about answering the question "what is capitalism?" They all agreed that it was an important part of their lives and our society. They certainly know it's part of the business environment. But no one felt confident defining or describing it. When I asked a few people said they recalled learning about capitalism. No one in the classroom recalled it ever being discussed explicitly in their 4 plus years of business education. We talked about why they think it is that capitalism is so little discussed. One student said that maybe it's because if we talk about we'll rebel. Another said that it was "implied".
We spent most of the hour walking building a simple understanding of capitalism (including what "capital" is), using the Talking Capitalism diagram and tools (see HOW section of the Talking Capitalism website).
They contributed lots of important insights from their own extensive work experience about what makes labor - embodied in people - valuable, as compared to machines. Even with advances in artificial intelligence and robotics, they agreed, that people's abilities to learn, think, imagine, have compassion, feel, etc. are irreplaceable.
We also talked about relative wages (who makes a lot, who makes a little) and why they exist, the impact on the economy as a whole of low wages, etc.. We looked at images of the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh in 2013 and considered similarities and differences between garment workers of the early 20th century in Lawrence MA.
We also discussed the fact that the system of people working for a wage is, in fact, relatively new (the details of feudalism are often murky memories from high school but Game of Thrones is pretty familiar). That this basic aspect of capitalism - that we sell our labor for wages instead of living off the land or being tied to feudal manor - is relatively new is important to consider. It's especially important in terms of the fundamental role of slavery in the United States. We talked about the idea of a person being treated as "capital" and current day limitations on how what we can and can't sell of our bodies (labor but not body parts!).
We talked about the role of the government in capitalism. Many people couldn't think of any ways that government helps businesses make money (it is often only seen in terms of the burden of taxes), but then we started listing things like k-12 education, roads, public safety, a legal system, food and drug (and building code) regulation, etc. and there was general acknowledgment that government might, in fact, (at least potentially) facilitate capitalism.
After class one student, Ariselis Sanchez talked to me about talking about capitalism with students in the high school she attended in Bloomfield, CT. And she spoke very eloquently of how she sees capitalism and the way we talk/don't talk about it.
Thank you, Tiffany, Arieslis, Prof. Marques and all the students of MGT 403!